Freedom of speech: special update

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As all IPA members and supporters know, the Coalition went to the federal election in September last year promising to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, the law that was used against Andrew Bolt.

On 30 September 2011, then opposition legal affairs spokesman Senator George Brandis announced: “Section 18C, as presently worded, has no place in a society that values freedom of expression and democratic governance. If the Bolt decision is not overturned on appeal, the provision in its present form should be repealed.”

In a speech to the Institute of Public Affairs in Sydney on 6 August 2012, then opposition leader Tony Abbott said (at 26 minutes, 15 seconds in the linked video): “So let me assure you, the Coalition will repeal section 18C in its current form.”

Unfortunately, almost six months on from the election the Coalition appears to be backing away from its freedom of speech promise.

Last Monday 24 February 2014 at a Senate committee hearing, Senator Brandis said: “…it is incorrect to say that either Mr Abbott or I have ever said that it was the new government’s intention to repeal section 18C.”

Senator Brandis’ recent comments are very, very troubling. I’m writing to you because I want FreedomWatch readers to know about this very significant development in the free speech debate in Australia.

In The Australian on Friday, I explained why the IPA is so troubled. A number of proposals under consideration by the federal government would amount to further restrictions on freedom of speech.

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First, as you can see from the quotes I’ve highlighted above, the government appears to be walking away from its election promise to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. This provision makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person on the basis of race, colour or ethnicity.

Second, the government is considering introducing a new criminal offence for inciting racial “hatred”. Such a law could have sent Andrew Bolt – or you or me, if we had said what Andrew Bolt said – to jail. To read Senator Brandis’ comments on this proposal, see this report on 31 January in The Australian. As I argued in my piece on Friday, if a law against racial hatred is passed it could create an even more hostile environment for freedom of speech than that which exists in Australia today.

Click here to read the press release I sent out on Friday morning to alert the media about this alarming development.

A lot has happened on freedom of speech since the federal election in September last year. The IPA concluded our freedom of speech tour in December 2013. The national tour took us to every Australian capital city, and allowed us to spread the message right around the country about the importance of freedom of speech.

In the November edition of the IPA Review I wrote an article which explained how that the Left has corrupted the concept of human rights, such as the right to freedom of speech, in favour of a left-wing agenda. Stephen Conroy and Nicola Roxon featured prominently in ‘The Dirty Dozen‘ – a January 2014 IPA Review piece that exposed Australia’s biggest opponents of freedom.

And now we’re worried about what the government plans to do on section 18C.

The Coalition must repeal section 18C. University of Queensland law professor James Allan explained why the repeal must go ahead in this excellent piece for the Sydney Morning Herald today.

Repealing all of section 18C is the only way to ensure that an Andrew Bolt case never happens again. And no government that introduces incitement to racial hatred laws is a friend of free speech.

But there are those who want section 18C to remain exactly as it stands today. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said in a speech earlier today: “The danger of dismantling section 18C is that it may licence racial hatred.”

The IPA will always fight for freedom of speech in Australia. We will continue to put pressure on the government to ensure that it enlarges freedom of speech, rather than restricting it as it is now considering.

This is why your support of the IPA is so important. We will soon write to Coalition MPs to ask them why they are walking away from their pre-election commitment to free speech. And we will be sending you regular updates to ensure you remain informed about breaking developments on this vital issue.

If you’d like to talk to me about section 18C please don’t hesitate to ring me at the office on 03 9600 4744 or on my mobile 0400 967 382. You can also email me at [email protected].

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